Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Book of Sorrows



Several of my friends have kids with Autism or Asperser’s. It used to be caused by Moms called Refrigerator Moms because they were cold and unresponsive, then we blamed vaccinations, and now . . .? I’d like to think its corn syrup. This is how to start a rumor.

Or maybe things just happen. Out of our control.

I’ve always felt empathy for these children. The quirky ones with idiosyncrasies. The collector, the hoarder, the obsessive kid addicted to Legos.

When I was 8 or 9 I got on a kick, cutting the vital statistics, records of births and deaths, out of the newspaper, and taping them into a notebook. I was looking for patterns. I created a graph—probably I called it research. Who knows what I was trying to prove. Perhaps I wondered what the ratio of boys to girls was or what day of the week produced the most births or even the most fertile month.

Anyway, I kept track of this until my mother swept up my notebooks—which to her looked like clutter—and threw them out.

If this was the only time it happened I would understand, but my mother had a pattern of tossing notebooks I’d written in or sheaves of paper stacked on my desk in my room. Somehow her moments of frustration always ended in her “cleaning” up poetry or novels or prose projects I’d been working on.

As a kid I had a feeling that many things were out of my control.

After vital statistics I graduated to another kind of clippings—these I hid away, tucked in between the pages of a Girl Scout Handbook. (I loved the newspaper. It was a world outside of my world. Just last week I found a newspaper in the dining room and cut articles out of it. It felt like old times.)

It started randomly with a news story about a poor mom living in downtown Dayton in a slum house. She’d put her baby down to sleep at night and woke up to find rats biting her infant. There was a picture of a child sitting on her lap its face swollen and mottled. You see the incident is still engraved in my memory.

House fires. Young girls kidnapped and found later dead. Car wrecks—a group of nine teens killed on the way to a dance. I buried the Girl Scout handbook behind my shoes in the back of the closet. Sometimes at night before bed I’d pull them out and read through them. It was my book of sorrows.

Things happened, beyond my control. Each tragedy confirmed that.

I still have this particular scrapbook. And, lately, I’ve begun to think about looking for it in our storage unit—mixed in with all the bits and pieces I’ve saved from my daughter, her schoolwork, notes she wrote to me, and the little stories she used to write.

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